BONN, Germany — U.S. President Donald Trump is taking a beating at the United Nations climate conference here.
Politicians from across the globe mischievously pose for photographs beside a sign at a French pavilion that reads “Make Our Planet Great Again.” Climate activists repeatedly chastise Trump in panel conversations and throughout the convention halls. The leaders of Mexico and Canada formalized an agreement to circumvent the president and work directly with mostly Democratic governors of climate-minded states.
Yet despite the vitriol and disregard for Trump — and his announced withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement — the diplomats and other officials in Bonn are breathing a sigh of relief. Climate advocates had feared the worst — that the White House would make moves to undercut the pact, a disruptive posture that might do serious damage to the international accord.
Instead, the Trump administration made no notable efforts other than to hold a single public event promoting clean coal, leaving hope here that the Paris agreement would endure.
“They haven’t thrown a bomb yet, have they?” said California Governor Jerry Brown, who was at the conference promoting state- and regional-level efforts to address climate change. “So that’s good.”
Christiana Figueres, a former United Nations climate envoy who helped orchestrate the Paris agreement’s adoption two years ago, said that in the long-term effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Trump is “going to be a blip” in history.
Several Democratic governors, mayors and lawmakers from the United States were beginning to filter out of the conference Tuesday, after a coordinated push to persuade world leaders that Trump does not represent the United States on climate. Earlier this week, leaders of Canada and Mexico agreed to enter into discussions about clean-energy initiatives with an alliance of 14 states and the island territory of Puerto Rico, which have pledged to meet their share of the U.S. commitment to the Paris accord.
Catherine McKenna, Canada’s environment minister, said at a meeting with Brown and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee that the agreement was a “great example that we’re all in this together.”
Inslee said: “This strategy is working. Not one single country has expressed one single word of doubt or lack of confidence in the Paris agreement just because Donald Trump is still a climate denier.”
The specter of Trump loomed large over the conference, where activists wore “We are still in” buttons, drank from reusable water bottles and traveled between buildings on free, shared bicycles.
Trump has called climate change a hoax, and the White House sparked a protest Monday with its event promoting coal. Protesters yelled that “clean coal is bull—-“ and that White House officials are “a bunch of liars.”
Laurence Tubiana, France’s former ambassador for climate change negotiations, said: “The United States is really isolated from the process point of view … Nobody’s backtracking. And even the discussion, the negotiation is going well — with its normal difficulties — it’s going well.”
While Trump has announced the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris agreement, the exit cannot take effect until 2020. Miguel Arias Cañete, European commissioner for climate action and energy, said he did not yet know how to assess the White House’s position in the talks. But he said he was encouraged by U.S. governors and mayors insisting that they will still move to cut emissions.
“America is still in,” Cañete said. “Our perception is, fortunately, there is real action on the ground, and we’re very pleased.”
He said as long as the U.S. hasn’t left the agreement, the country is “entitled to participate” in talks.
With higher-level politicians from other countries expected to arrive at the conference Wednesday, Cañete said, “We’re now landing in the political level, and we’ll see what the positions of the United States are.”
Few observers were expecting a dramatic shift, however, from the previous week. Dave Banks, Trump’s energy adviser, who led the controversial coal panel, told POLITICO that U.S. policy on fossil fuels is separate from what American diplomats are quietly discussing in negotiation halls.
“There’s a reason we didn’t talk about negotiations, because negotiations are over there,” Banks said, referring the other side of a sprawling campus here where global environment leaders are discussing implementation of the Paris agreement. “Over here is where you can have more general policy discussions.”
Tom Shannon, a State Department veteran who has served as ambassador to Brazil, will not arrive Wednesday as planned to take the reins from career negotiators who were in charge for the first week, the State Department said Tuesday.
But Banks said Shannon would not have taken up the White House’s coal banner.
“So you think he’s going to say, ‘We’re going to promote coal’?” Banks said. “No, that’s a policy discussion. It’s not a negotiation.”
Banks also insisted the controversial U.S. panel on coal wasn’t meant to push exports of U.S. fossil fuels but rather to open a practical discussion that wouldn’t otherwise occur at a climate conference.
“We’re not selling coal or gas or nuclear power,” he told reporters in a huddle
In their official discussions with foreign diplomats, State Department negotiators are taking positions similar to the Obama administration on technical issues, including on how countries should report on and demonstrate their progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Banks confirmed that the delegation has the same goal to require more developed countries to meet the same standards as the U.S.
One senior African negotiator described the situation for U.S. delegates as “a bit weird.”
“I think the mandate is not to be a blocker,” he said. “They engage, but in the end they’re not the ones calling the shots.”
American negotiators are also taking a “tough line” against industrialized nations paying more for less-developed countries to address climate change, said Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists.
While the negotiations on technical matters continued to unfold, climate activists were looking forward to a potentially difficult climate conference next year in Poland, a major coal-producing state — and to the next presidential election in the United States.
As Inslee told one audience, “The next president of the United States is not going to be a climate denier.”